Thursday, July 29th, 2021

Inhaler – Cheer Up Baby

A whole point more than last time, how much more cheered do you want, kid?


[Video]
[5.71]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s magnificent, what they can do nowadays: “Cheer Up Baby” is a 360° tour of Planet NME in 2005, a pop world faraway yet close. Some things never change. This boy’s one desire — his goal of elevation to blue skies up ahead — is everlasting; “Cheer Up Baby”‘s successes the product of familiarity. Whether you’ve heard it before or are feeling it now — even better if the latter — this thoroughgoing mull in a damp October has cathartic potential, and its fizz to the edge of lift-off sure accounts for that. A boon for those who’ll follow, and perhaps a boon for you too.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Give me some credit — I found several things about this annoying before I knew anything about anyone’s dad. And honestly if I was going to say he reminds me of anyone, I would have said Pablo Honey-era Thom Yorke (not necessarily a demerit!). There’s at least some momentum to the chorus, although it seems to get sapped a bit as they add more elements towards the end, which feels like the opposite of what should happen? Mostly though it’s just the little nuances of affect and emphasis (and, I admit with a sigh, probably age) that can be hard to articulate but make the difference between bands you just instinctively gravitate towards and those that make you recoil a little.
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I had to Google to verify that this was not, indeed, a Brandon Flowers side project. The rock melodrama, the teenage angst reading-a-love-letter-out-loud lyric, and the redemptive swelling bridge all evoke the best of old Killers tracks, just barely updated for 2021. The only difference is that Flowers’ artificial pastiche has been traded in for something more authentic and — dare I say — sweet. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Our occasion to cover this song is that it was the lead single off a #1 UK album. No doubt someone’s dad is proud. The press releases and the voice and the looks say it’s Bono, but listening to this song, I’m not entirely convinced that we shouldn’t do a DNA test to make sure the dad isn’t Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics because if ever there was a blatant “Dakota” rip, this is that. Annoyingly, it’s quite pleasant.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: This is actually a nicely built song, but it doesn’t say anything to me. The steady beat in the verses joined by the more playful guitar and bass lines sound neat and I guess the more explosive chorus was expected but it isn’t unwelcomed. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if it had a more interesting vocal melody than just kind of screaming “cheer up baby” in a way that doesn’t sound cheering at all.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: A lot of bands have perfected this sugary post-punk-meets-indie-rock thing over the years, and who can blame them? Tell the drummer to keep up the momentum, make sure the bassist is playing on every eighth note, and you’ve got something addictive. The magic formula certainly works on me; but I’m still not inclined to give Inhalers too many points just because of how obvious it is that they’re copying their homework. If I wanted this particular brand of empty calorie there’s a lot of places I could get it from, and most have better lyrical chops than to rhyme “more than a friend” and “close to the end” during what’s supposed to be an emotional payoff.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The U2-Killers hybrid so terrifying to us in the mid to late aughts returns, this time at the service of homiletic banalities aimed at a woman stuck in a moment she can’t get out of. 
[5]

Thursday, July 29th, 2021

Caroline Polachek – Bunny Is a Rider

Look, I’ve got certain information. Certain things have come to light, and, you know, has it ever occurred to you that — given the nature of all this new shit, this could be a lot more, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh — pang!


[Video]
[5.14]

Claire Biddles: “Bunny Is a Rider” is a somewhat disappointing follow-up to Pang, which balanced its percussive moments with lush, dense textures. The minimal set-up of bass/vocals/whistling? is a tantalising start, but I wish it opened up into something more. The song’s titular protagonist is intangible, unknowable, and I feel like I’m watching her, rather than embodying her delicious freedom.
[5]

Vikram Joseph: A strange, elliptical escapist fantasy spun across elastic bass and Danny L Harle’s spacey soundscapes, “Bunny Is a Rider” is an intriguing taster of Caroline Polachek’s second album. On first impressions, it pales by comparison to the singles from Pang – not as effervescent as “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”, as spine-chilling as “Ocean Of Tears”, or as transcendent as “Door.” But the blend of tartness and sweetness starts to taste pretty good after a few listens, and there’s a precision to the structure that reassures me that Polachek knows exactly what she’s doing.
[7]

Will Adams: Instrumentally, “Bunny Is a Rider” follows up on what made Pang so engaging: it skitters and swoops and whistles and giggles like a baby. But Polachek’s melody is far more restrained. Without her signature vocal acrobatics, we get a song that’s less of an adventure and more a pleasant, steady cruise — or “ride,” if you will.
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: I’ve listened to “Bunny Is a Rider” an astonishing number of times trying to figure out what about it isn’t clicking for me. For every choice I do enjoy, there’s another I don’t — the bass is great, but I’m tired of marimba; the whistling is deployed way better than in most songs that use it, but the baby feels unnecessary. There are some great one-off production choices (I’m particularly fond of the sudden spoken intrusion at 1:12), and Polachek sounds good, particularly on the choruses. But ultimately the song feels a little slight.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Get the fuck out of here with this stock music ass bass line. I can’t believe this shit. It’s like they got Primus to produce an Ariana Grande album, like you isolated whatever Flea is playing on “You Oughta Know” and put it right in front of the mix. It’s the second understudy in a touring production of Charlie Puth’s “Attention.” It’s really not very pleasant to listen to. Also, the Earth Day line is very silly.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Remember when Chairlift’s “Ch-Ching” came out and was very obviously an unused Beyoncé demo despite the duo kind of talking around that fact in interviews, and then they eventually admitted that yeah, OK, it really was? I’m convinced “Bunny Is a Rider” is the same. Danny L Harle’s production sounds nothing like Pang but instead workaday trop-pop with lightly nostalgic early-oughts R&B interludes (around 1:09, for instance). More noticeably, Caroline Polachek sounds nothing like herself for most of the song. Apart from the chorus — which, perhaps tellingly, is not the hook — her vocal sounds a little uninvested, a little too engineered to pop-R&B specs from several years ago. Specifically, she sounds exactly like Drake on the verses — the electronic drawl, the More Life-esque sigh to the melodies. I can see a universe where Caroline took an unused demo and wrote a new chorus — the part where she does sound like herself, where her vocals are more acrobatic and her melodies more diffident. That’s not an insult, really, since “Bunny Is a Rider” being a song by Drake or his imitators would certainly give those verses a harsher gaze — particularly given the incredibly sneering Of Montreal song the title comes from. If true, her more generous chorus would be both a welcome answer song and a nice bit of salvage work. But of course, all of this is wild speculation. There’s a whole world of artists soliciting demos. Maybe Dua Lipa?
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Eerily reminiscent of Rare-era Selena Gomez. Which is to say: agreeable center-left pop which conforms to trends enough to hint at mainstream appeal, while still being able to revel in its own songwriting oddness. 
[6]

Thursday, July 29th, 2021

Wizkid ft. Tems – Essence

It’s summer on the sidebar…


[Video]
[7.75]

Andrew Karpan: An afropop earworm that somehow doubles as the most accomplished Tems record since her breakout hit “Try Me.” The message is somewhat plain, but she holds onto it as if it’s tied into the very fabric of her soul. It’s a clear driving force around which Wizkid mostly muses on the sidelines, as to suggest that a voice of such clear yearning would be too much to behold on its own.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: Tems’ For Broken Years was one my favorite releases of 2020, and even when “Essence” is not her own song, it has everything I enjoyed about it. I love how subtle and soft all the instruments. Even Wizkid’s voice sounds soft compared to Tems’ strong presence, creating a nice balance between all the elements. Extra point for knowing how to mix in a sax in such a smooth way.
[8]

Ian Mathers: There are some fine vocal performances here — particularly Tems, although Wizkid fits into the song well, too — but it’s all the little interlocking bits of the quietly insistent production that really caught my ear. I actually wish they’d gone with an instrumental intro or outro or something, even though Tems’ chorus is really quite good.
[7]

Claire Biddles: Tems’ languid delivery, Wizkid’s drawl and mid-tempo Afro-beat might be better taken with a contrasting element, rather than all together. Drowsy.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Its concentration didn’t wear me down so much as win me over. Not wasting time on foolishness, Wizkid lays down a threat: “You don’t need no other body.” Meanwhile, all sorts of cool mournful noises swell and vanish like squalls. 
[9]

Mark Sinker: The magazine Pan African Music calls it an “ode to lust”, which sounds a bit formally old-fashioned and animal for this lovely, sleepy lope. Tems sings “turn me out of my mind” — such a great phrase — but even as a request, it’s hardly an urgent one. There’s lots more relaxing to be done first.
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Sometimes, when I’m stuck on writing a blurb for a song, I just listen to it on loop. This rarely produces novel thoughts, but it does stress test the song. Exciting novelties become tedious; momentary annoyances become mountains of grievance. But “Essence” stays just as pleasant if you listen to it five times in a row, all the quirks of Wizkid’s croon becoming more endearing, and Tems sounds as good as she always does. The only thing holding “Essence” back is that it isn’t a proper duet.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: I have no words. Because if there is anything that can be criticized about this, it’s that it’s not 40 minutes long.
[10]

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

Shakira – Don’t Wait Up

I’m suddenly craving peanuts and Cracker Jacks…


[Video]
[5.56]

Joshua Lu: This will probably out me as being way too online, but I think this song is so bad that I literally had a nightmare that this scored a [7.50], and I woke up partly annoyed and mostly terrified. The problems are obvious in “Don’t Wait Up” — the lyrics are pedestrian, and Shakira’s signature tone uncomfortably overwhelms that sparse ArK Music Factory beat. There is a specter of a good song to be found here, mostly in that first verse that promises ethereal mystery and coyness, but any hope is lost when that hideous chorus smacks you back to reality. I can only pray that my dream does not become reality.
[2]

Will Adams: Disappointing! Five years from her last English-language single, I expected a return with more punch, whether via memorable, over-the-top lyrics or a massive arrangement. Instead, “Don’t Wait Up” is frustratingly toned-down EDM-pop. Per the genre’s convention, the chorus isn’t really a chorus and more a simple hook — fine. But where the drop would in turn pick up the slack, that baseball organ is hung out to dry, with no delay or reverb to signal that this A Moment. As it is, it feels inert.
[5]

Madi Ballista: I was excited for a new Shakira track, but its bare-bones instrumentation, tepid lyrics, and vocals that lack Shakira’s usual oomph… it feels a little phoned-in. Shakira’s singing is dynamic is usual, but it just doesn’t give me the chills in the way I was expecting. I get the feeling that the muted instruments are supposed to create a moody nighttime feel, but overall it comes off sounding rather dull. Maybe if they’d spiced up the music with a few more instruments and leaned into the rhythm a little harder, I’d have something to chair dance to.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: My first several listens, I was adamant about hating Ian Kirkpatrick’s ridiculous, guileless production. But burdened with repeat listens, the robotic synth melodies burrowed and bulldozed their way into every microscopic gay cell of my body. “Don’t Wait Up” is the sound of Shakira embracing mindless carnality, and sounding better for it. 
[7]

Juana Giaimo: It’s quite amazing how Shakira brings so much personality to an anonymous song. This could easily be one of the many DJ singles we often call generic, but it has a few details that I enjoy, like the the deep bass synths in the prechorus suddenly turning high-pitched in the chorus. Her voice is instantly recognizable and she has a good control of it, but maybe she is controlling it too much. I was hoping that in the last chorus, the vocal melody would do something — there is a lot of space in between each “Don’t wait up!” that it seems the song was just asking for something to happen. 
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: “Don’t Wait Up”‘s verses are absolutely gorgeous — I love their echoey plaintiveness, and how the synth chords are just syncopated enough to knock you slightly off-balance. And the build of the prechorus is good as well, with the slightly brassier keys part joining as the vocal builds intensity. The chorus is a letdown though, with a somewhat plain melody paired with a frankly disappointing accompaniment. I like a fairground organ, but the particular one used feels really flat compared to the other parts of the piece — the staccato, along with the complete lack of any reverb, is a jarring contrast compared to the moody echoes present elsewhere. Throughout the song, though, Shakira is in fine voice; she has such a distinctive instrument, and she gets to show off a few sides of it here. It’s a good song, let down by one baffling instrument choice.
[7]

Claire Biddles: It’s disheartening to hear distinctive pop voices dampened in the name of (already sort of dated!) trends. The verse of “Don’t Wait Up” had me worried that Shakira — one of our weirdest! — had recorded a single that could easily be by any EDM-adjacent singer. The chorus just about turns it around, though, with its percussive stabs of odd, tinny noise, something like a field recording of a haunted waltzer. Also Shakira asking if her beau remembers “how you felt before you met all my different moods?”… pretty relatable amirite ladies! 
[6]

Ian Mathers: Shakira’s always a winning presence and she remains so here, but I feel like I need to buy whoever came up with the idea for and/or executed the production here (are those just sampled/properly fucked up organ sounds, or something else?). Some parts of “Don’t Wait Up” feel practically tactile to me, this is the first time in a while I’ve kept going back to the middle eight of a song just because the sounds are too good. I would like some more please?
[8]

Edward Okulicz: The treated organ is supposed to be ear-catching and a bit of a WTF-bomb the first time you hear it, but it’s actually disappointingly subdued, like whoever produced this didn’t have the courage to go the whole way at the last second. That and the chorus itself is kind of weak. Shakira’s seldom bad, but this feels like a real swing and a miss.
[6]

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under

Not a song about the K-pop band touring Australia. Nor a song about the American teen magazine going out of print…


[Video]
[7.00]

Ian Mathers: I’m not assuming Sam Fender reads TSJ or took notes from our (justifiably) tepid response to his “Greasy Spoon” back in 2018, but it kind of feels like he did? Actually singing about himself and his memories, his pain, his experience, instead of repeating “I am a woman” in what at least came across as a well-intentioned but misfiring attempt to get under someone else’s skin. The depictions and the critiques here, as well as the catharsis, just feels more genuine and certainly more intense. Yes, the whole thing feels very Springsteen, but actually in a way that makes sense. If the rest of the record strikes this kind of balance instead of the one “Greasy Spoon” did, I think the result might sneak up on some people.
[8]

Jeffrey Brister: I was first acquainted to Sam Fender via his brilliant cover of The Boss’s “Atlantic City“, so this song comes as no surprise. It aims for that transcendence Springsteen so casually achieves at his best, but it can’t help but fall short. Not for lack of trying — Fender’s voice is full of melancholy, perfectly emulating Springsteen’s whoa-oh’s in the background, managing to stay centered even as the music drives harder and harder around him. Once the sax kicks in, the influence is undeniable. Flattering without being slavishly devoted to the template.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Tastes like salty coastal air, sounds like rock records played during high school basement sleepovers, and feels like the understated melancholy of wondering if you’ll ever know more than you do at 17. Sam Fender leans into childlike introspection on “Seventeen Going Under,” but the neo-futuristic ethos is somehow entirely adult. 
[7]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: A five minute crescendo with a jangly guitar and synth bass that opens a window to an alternate universe where Vance Joy and the Killers didn’t sink into a steady decline but instead remained relevant, shaping alt pop in their image. 
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: A big step up: a thorough psychic immersion into agitated adolescent experience, comprising shards of sense memory and ever more distorted impressions of others. There are numerous powerful moments, but that howling snatch of someone — maybe his father, maybe his adult self — commenting quite helpessly — maybe obliviously — on his depressive demeanour is the swan dive from the peak. In speaking from experience, Fender’s voice gains vitality, and while the sonic fireworks have their forebears, they are at least good ones. “Seventeen Going Under” may be derivative, but it’s also unique.
[8]

Juana Giaimo: I like songs that tell stories, but I find it hard to empathise with this one. I’m still not entirely sure what the title means, and the “I was a bad kid, I made my family suffer” storyline seems to look for some kind of self-pity that is already a common place. Musically, it reminds me of Arcade Fire. It’s too upfront and his deep voice too rigid, lacking the softness that nostalgia needs.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Fender’s voice is just too heavy and throaty for that jangly “Solsbury Hill/”Here Comes the Sun” guitar, so it makes sense that when the arrangement becomes surging and his vocals become backing, this improves. It’s just that it improves in a very familiar way.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The weedy vocals are the point: the pressures of masculinity, whether updated for the times or real, make things like stresses beside the point. But I still have evaluate “Seventeen Going Under,” and it has charms, most of which stem from Sam Fender’s ebullient relation to his craft and a commitment to indie rock strum-and-sing that I thought had disappeared. 
[7]

Vikram Joseph: That opening Go-Betweens-ish riff is so gnawing and evocative — sure, it could have appeared in a song from any decade since the ’60s, but it still twists something in my stomach. And the transition into a pounding heartland-rock banger feels inevitable, but no less cathartic for it. Sam Fender sings like a music teacher once told him to PROJECT! and forgot to mention he didn’t always have to, but “Seventeen Going Under” is great enough for it not to bother me. Discussions around men’s mental health rarely go much deeper than T-shirts that say “BOYS GET SAD TOO” and cheery exhortations to “be kind!” and “talk to someone!”, but Fender understands not only that the pervasive attitudes and situations that form the backdrop to boys’ childhoods help form the scars that toxic masculine behaviour oozes from, but also the way in which social and regional inequalities feed directly into those environments. (There are several exceptional lines here — the verse about anger is close to poetry — but “I see my mother / the DWP see a number” is just so simple and so good, a clear-eyed expression of fury and despair which will make you pump your first in the air on public transport.) And there’s saxophone, there’s a wailing two-note outro, there’s the most strident woah-ohs since whenever Japandroids last showed their faces. In a world where you can be anything, don’t just be kind: be reflective, be empathetic, be this fucking good.
[9]

Monday, July 26th, 2021

Normani ft. Cardi B – Wild Side

One big-name clash deserves another…


[Video]
[6.00]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: No one is harder on Normani than Normani. The surgically cut phrasing on “Wild Side,” the stunningly intricate video, the expertly-curated Cardi B verse that lands with the gravity of concrete: they all exemplify the level of precision and control that she exerts on her music. And while Normani is amazing as an auteur, it can also lead to a painstaking process and music which sounds overthought. It’s been nearly two years since she’s has released new music, and she’s admitted that the delay has been the result of self-doubt and feeling in her head. “Wild Side”, unfortunately, shows some of these cracks: Normani has recounted that the writing and mixing process was full of anxiety, so much so that it was like writing a paper over and over again so much that she hardly even knew what it says anymore. The result? Although “Wild Side” is technically proficient — even excellently produced — it still sounds like the work of an artist chasing a level of unattainable perfection rather than allowing herself to authentically show herself. The world is waiting for what Normani wants to sound like unsaddled from any expectations — and just realizing her tremendous talent. 
[6]

Jessica Doyle: I know many of y’all (and us) want Normani to be a big star, and I get it, she’s very talented, but I don’t see how this does for her what either she or her fans want it to do. At least in “Motivation” she was the sole star, and the explicit focus of the video was showing her off. Here she’s upstaged first by the costumes and then by Cardi, who apparently did not get the memo that this particular Song of the Sufficiently Sexual was supposed to be bland (“I wanna put my pretty pink toes in your mouth” being my favorite line on first listen). In the short term, Normani looks like the hook singer on someone else’s song, rather than the main attraction. In the long term… I wonder if twenty years from now we’ll be having the same conversation about her being pigeonholed and leered at that we’re having now about the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Christina Aguilera. The alternative would be to have that conversation now, and see if we can’t get Normani a song that’s actually interesting enough to do her justice.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Normani is a really good singer but she’s not really much of a rapper. Cardi isn’t good at singing and has somehow forgotten how to rap. The beat is so bare and so static it can’t settle into a groove. Cardi keeps saying believe me so much I can’t believe her. Normani does a bunch of OK Thugga runs. I can’t believe motivation had a 21 Savage remix. People need to stop biting Solange and work with Solange. Can we bring roll up back? This song is OK. Wish it had a Nezi Momodu verse. Cardi, this inhale is not it.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Other than an irritating vocal melody, I can’t find a thing wrong with “Wild Side.” From a formalist perspective, it’s excellent. To my ears, though, Normani lacks personality, and Cardi B raps as if she hasn’ t heard the rest of the song.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: From the Aaliyah sample (used so judiciously) to the deliciously filthy Cardi verse to Normani aping Beyoncé’s staccato talk-singing (not quite rapping), this gets 10s, 10s, 10s across the board.
[10]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: This is a Velvet Rope Janet song with a Cardi B verse breaking the joint. That is a compliment, really.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Normani’s PR campaign continues to be more impressive than her material. Cardi excepted, this is decidedly on the mild side: not striking, not sultry, just kinda there.
[5]

Monday, July 26th, 2021

Dave ft. Stormzy – Clash

Hitsville UK…


[Video]
[6.00]

Thomas Inskeep: You could call this “Clash (of the Titans),” since that’s essentially what this is: the two rap kings of the UK, together at last. Being an old-schooler, Stormzy is more my style (it’s just his flow), but Dave’s no slouch. The beat is a little too simple sing-songy until it switches up at 2:45, at which point it does a better job of supporting both of the guys. Not the dream collab I might’ve wished for, but still (so) solid.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: So this is actually much better than I originally thought. For one, it’s pretty heavy but also bouncy, with this heavy handed bass smushing the thin hotel pianos and flat hotel keyboards. Secondly, Dave’s “one” rhyme scheme is so surprising catchy I got kinda bummed he didn’t end the verse with it. Thirdly, Stormzy is surprisingly charming and funny on this one. (He also sends for Chip but at this point he needs to accept that he got got.) Finally, Dave wears a coat of all colors but never brings any attention to it. Truly a Jacob move.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: Minor-key menace on the instrumental, practiced effortless flexing in the verses: The formula may not fit a song titled “Clash,” and certainly left more than enough on the bone for the vulturine Chip to make a meal of, but neither Dave nor Stormzy is really trying to win anything here. Rather, this is a victory lap ’round an Aston Martin test track — undeniably, big flex is inventing one — or an exercise in shadowboxing, and both cloud-dwelling Brits have more than enough pop in their gloves and laconic wordplay in their verses (“My left wrist retired“; “Coulda penned ‘im one/’Ca you’re pendin’ one”) to do circles around their foes while the bass bounces off the ocean floor. Touching gloves and getting dirty might be more entertaining and would certainly be more true to grime, but why give and take body shots when sniper rifles are at hand?
[8]

Mark Sinker: First impression is maybe a clipped blizzard of signifiers of success (material, sexual, gang-martial), but behind the flaunting the tonemood is conflicted gloom at best — as if to say all these wins but are we really winning? When Stormzy jumps in after Dave, the energy does lift for a moment, but the slump beds back in, and we keep re-cycling through that chorus — tory-labour-corbyn-diss — that can’t avoid translating as a defeat.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: A not inconsiderable amount of effort has gone into the wordplay, but any chance it has of being memorable is quelled by a lifeless production which would do little for even a more expressive vocalist. If you hold an investment in Stormzy’s relationship with Mr Munk, perhaps there’s more; if not, at least there’s the telling implication of a world in which Corbyn still represents Labour, is consequently Prime Minister, and the song sounds considerably better.
[4]

Andrew Karpan: A gorgeous set of bars that cross each other like two arrows heading twain into the deep night; Dave’s voice has a kind of sadness that somehow still feels fresh to behold, a bored affect that remains subtly moving. And when you scratch the record’s surface, you find out that the jokes he and Stormzy exchange are about pensions and mortgages and, in some way, one can’t help but think this underlines grime’s still-fundamental resistance to escapism.
[7]

Oliver Maier: Dave, morose as ever, is ably upstaged by the sharper and funnier Stormzy (“the machine got sweets, on a vending one”). UK rap’s dearth of imaginative producers in the mainstream continues to pose an issue.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Less epochal than the credits would suggest, and all the better for it. Less complex than the pairing would suggest, also all to the better. I suggest Dave find a girlfriend worth the Labour. 
[7]

Saturday, July 24th, 2021

The Kid Laroi with Justin Bieber – Stay

We await the extended remix, “Stay (Justin Bieber Bit Longer)”…


[Video][Website]
[5.22]

Thomas Inskeep: More along the lines of what I expected from “Motley Crew,” this is propulsive, has a key lyric in “I’ll be fucked up if you’re not around me,” and in the most remarkable feat, Kid Laroi and the Biebs actually harmonize quite well. I like “Stay”‘s frenetic quality — these guys are in a hurry, to save themselves perhaps?
[6]

Ian Mathers: You may need them to stay, but you both forgot to provide literally even one compelling reason for them to — hell, most of the song is just spent admitting to knowingly lying to this person. The generically singsongy track with two essentially interchangeable vocalists isn’t helping much.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Charlie Puth, you rascal, stop using your powers for evil!
[3]

Oliver Maier: Whining lights.
[4]

Al Varela: I can’t tell if The Kid Laroi is growing on me or if he just found his niche in pop music. Guess he’s more like Post Malone than I thought, working best in angsty pop over the attempts at trap-influenced pop which expose him at his ugliest and least likable. At least the desperation in “Stay” works well in tandem with the waves of synth and crashing percussion. It allows both Laroi and Bieber to put their all into it enough to show the cracks in their voices, but not to a point of annoyance. It feels less like they’re forcing their vocals and more like in their hyperactive rush of emotion, they’re desperately reaching out for that last chance that they likely don’t deserve, but still want more than anything. It’d be easy to dismiss the song’s sentiments as childish guilt-tripping, but their agency is what makes the song so special alongside the brilliant production from Blake Slatkin, Charlie Puth, Omar Fedi, and Cashmere Cat. The latter I’m positive contributed to the best part of the song, the final chorus where every blast of synth feels like a firework exploding in the distance. That last push you need to seal the deal or die trying. And that explosion of angst-tinged euphoria is what keeps me coming back and second-guessing my feelings on The Kid Laroi as an artist. Well played.
[9]

Alfred Soto: “Blinding Lights” drum program, decently deployed obscenity, annoying as hell octave leap. Had we reviewed “Stay” in Miami, I’d have worried about Song of Summer vibes.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Justin Bieber does not sound like he’s 10 years older than The Kid Laroi. How can this even be possible? I wonder if I’m the only person who hears the intro this and thinks it’s perilously close to “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and, additionally, that both actually do well with it. The climax at the second chorus where the beats are like little tremors is really cool, and I’d have appreciated if there was another escalation, another repetition, a bigger climax. But if the lyrics to this are ick, everything else is slick, so they probably knew what they were doing.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Bieber should have been saved for the afterburner remix. It’s not that his presence degrades the song — it’s easy enough to imagine him at the helm instead — but more a case of the imperceptible difference he makes to it weighing it down with the reality of commercial imperatives. The hectic roboscape they find themselves in is more distinctive though, and the pace makes their dramatics more ingratiating.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: One of the craziest things is that The Mid Kid Laroi has largely been happily accepted by the rap community despite not being a rapper or even white. One of the less crazy things is that Justin Bieber is apparently honorarily black despite consistently persistently, forever and ever showing he doesn’t deserve it. And we definitely don’t deserve these guys doing bad Usher and Juice WRLD ripoffs while being awful to their partners. But we did, so I’ll just listen to the plinking synths and flat-footed drums and tune out the emotional abuse going on… cuz that’s what everyone would not do if this had been Usher and Juice WRLD.
[4]

Saturday, July 24th, 2021

Jonasu – Black Magic

(Checks reviews). Not a single Love Island reference. Yes!!!


[Video]
[4.86]

Oliver Maier: “Black Magic” hits on something compelling right at the drop, when it’s just the distorted vocals bouncing off the brassy bass. Jonasu makes sure to spoil it with all of the usual gym-house accoutrements before I get too attached.
[5]

Ian Mathers: The more the vocals here get left alone in center stage, the more this feels like a verse/chorus/verse song, the less compelling it is. During that chorus, where the vocals start getting treated more like a sample (both in processing and deployment), that’s when “Black Magic” really starts to have some frisson. Feels like we’re one good remix away from something really special.
[5]

Iris Xie: At this point I don’t really know how to write about UK house music — I could listen to it in a hundred different variations and never get sick of it, so it feels a bit unfair to try to write a review of this. So I’ll just break it down: 1) It has a chorus with a huge kick 2) It has a lot of squelchy bass that also kicks very hard 2) it has the necessary interpolation of horns and staccato chopping of the title that it is endlessly hummable 3) The guest vocal has the weighty elation needed to vibrate along with the hype of the instrumental 4) it is definitely designed to be a memorable soundtrack to a crazy good night out. I don’t live anywhere cool enough that would actually play this in a club (thanks, Sacramento) but I’ll play it with my bestie and we’ll dance during another lockdown.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Combine pretty much every pop-house record to have been a UK hit in the past 3 years in a blender, and you’ll get “Black Magic”: diva vocal, build/drop, the infinite influence of MK (only watered down), a lyrical theme of how much the female protagonist is into the person she’s singing to. So it’s not bad, exactly, but it’s not at all exciting, either. It just is.
[4]

Andrew Karpan: A great improvement for RANI, who takes her imitation of Rihanna to new and almost soulful heights even if the lines would crash most cringeometers, so it’s hard to say precisely how much of an accomplishment that is. For some, skill will eventually be measured by taste — but perhaps not yet.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Fairly generic house thumper in most ways, but I like how the progression from the verse, to the chorus, to the reprise of the chorus with the bass getting a little deeper echoes the increasing carnality of a night out after finding prey. Magic, voodoo, yeah, that’s basically moon/June stuff these days, but that’s easily ignored too. Passes the dancefloor test, not that I’m near one, but were I resident in Boris’s post-Freedom Day UK, I wouldn’t risk COVID to rush to the floor for some grinding.
[6]

Michael Hong: The choppiness of the vocals lends a lot of push and pull to “Black Magic,” even when the lyrics are all about want and tension. Jonasu attempts the same idea with his production, never letting it play out, but instead popping the beat in and out. Dance music shouldn’t be about overthinking things, yet the back and forth of both elements overcomplicates it, making it hard to give yourself to the track.
[4]

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley – Freedom Was a Highway

And we’re not turning for the exit here.


[Video]
[6.57]

Jeffrey Brister: I always feel like I want more from country music. More drama, more flourish, more emotion. It doesn’t have to be more sophisticated, I don’t care about that — I just want it more concentrated, a more densely packed version of what I’ve got. “Freedom Was A Highway” gets close, all bluster and bombast, but it ultimately feels a bit constrained. Hemmed in by its own convention. But this is pretty good, just not big enough for me.
[6]

Oliver Maier: I would not have clocked that two different people sing on this without the credits to help me out. Melodically docile and lyrically ticking off all of the country nostalgia clichés, though there’s a stirring 80s bigness — and a very nice guitar solo — that mean it’s hard for me not to feel fond of this.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Finally, a song making headway on country radio about summers and the past that’s not a string of endless clichés (lookin’ at you, Luke Bryan and all your minions). On top of that, Paisley’s not sounded this good in years — maybe a guest role, not having to do the heavy lifting, better suits him these days? (And of course, his guitar solo rips.) Allen’s got a slightly thin, but lovely voice, and he pairs well with Paisley. This is the kind of record that mainstream country should be aspiring to be.
[8]

Iris Xie: This strongly makes me believe ‘inoffensive’ should be its own radio genre. I’d be pretty happy listening to this at my dentist’s office.
[6]

Mark Sinker: *zizek coke-sniff*: “cynical reason is no longer naïve, but is a paradox of an enlightened false consciousness yeehaw” 
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Those drums are big, boomy and as dumb as the metaphor in the title. But this bit of sunbelt pop would have sounded great between, I don’t know, “The Boys of Summer” and Mr Mister on the radio in the 80s, because as big as the bottom end in, it’s got a lovely lightness to its melody and Allen’s wistful voice makes this cheesy and fond rather than sickly. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: More sentimental twaddle, more pining for a parochialism the singers resented as young men. Keeping it afloat is the attractive vocal melody, the acknowledgment that young men stifled by small town parochialism turned to hip-hop, and a Brad Paisley solo expressing these ambiguities without effort.
[7]